By Scott Shaw
I always find it interesting how in the Independent Film Industry people find easy targets for their criticism. This is especially the case in the No and the Low Budget Arena. This lack of understanding and appreciation goes hand-in-hand with something I have talking about literally forever whenever I speak with new filmmakers in my classes, seminars, or face-to-face. …You cannot become lost in attempting to imitate a film with a large budget when you have no budget. …You cannot expect your film to come out looking like a film with a million dollar budget when you have five dollars.
For the actual filmmaker, this concept is much more easily comprehended. For the viewer and the critic, not so much.
Most film viewers go into any film watching experience with preconceived expectation based upon what they have viewed in the past. Most of what they have viewed in the past is based upon a film with a substantial budget. Even most Independent Features are bankrolled with a fairly sizeable budget. But, then there is the whole other area of the film industry, the area of the industry where people are making movies for the love of cinema. Though they may have no money at all, they make their movies anyway.
Now, at this level of the industry some people do attempt to mimic what they have seen in the High Budget Arena. Most fall very short of this. Of course, there have been a few films made with no or a very small budget that have broken though. The most obvious examples of this are perhaps the original Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi. But, it is essential to note, that the versions of these films that went to wide-release were not the original versions of these films. They had major dollars poured into them for reshoots, editing, and sound tracking before they found their way into the mainstream.
All this being said, the viewing of any cinematic project is about the viewing of that particular project itself and it should not be about comparisons. Yes, this is a philosophic concept that most people will never understand or put to practice. But, just because it is not understood does mean that it is not true.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve watched over the years as people have compared my features to other pieces of cinema. They have gaged my work in comparison to the works of other filmmakers. They have tried to make sense of my work by placing labels on it. But, by doing this, in and of itself, they have missed the point. They have tried to place definitions and judgments on my work when they have not possessed the mindset to even understand it.
This does not bother me particularly. That’s just the name of the game in art. People gage things through their own level of realization. They want to find a reason to love or hate a project.
Also, this does not cause me to change. I mean, any artist who adapts their work simply because people criticize it is not an artist.
This being said, artists do evolve. I certainly have. My film work certainly has.
For example, I used to make abstract cinema attached to a verbally driven storyline. But, as I have long said, the stories have all been told. I don’t care about the stories. Leave that to the filmmakers with big bankrolls behind them. Though there may have been a subject matter in my films of the past, the story-driven dialogue was never the focus. And, this is where many critics got what I was doing all wrong. The words were just there as an abstract koan to take the viewer into the mind of Zen. The words never meant anything. They were nonrepresentational. They were just people taking about the nonsense that people normally speak of in life. I mean really, how much of what anyone says really matters?
But then, I left all that talking behind. I moved forward to focusing solely upon images.
The fact is, I have not made a dialogue-driven film since 2009. That’s almost ten years ago. Yet, most the people who talk about my Zen Films are not even aware enough to be aware of that fact. What does that say about them? Yes, I’ve made tons of movies since then, but they are all unspoken. They are simply nonfigurative images moving across the screen. The reason? Again, to guide the viewer into the meditative mindset of Zen.
So, next time you see a film, especially an experimental film, try to move beyond what you already know—what you already think you know. Leave behind your judgment and maybe you can understand what the filmmaker was actually attempting to portray. Maybe you can encounter Zen.
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